If being ‘country’ is about where you’re from and how you sing then Maren Morris has a Texan twang which should be perfect the genre. Her debut single My Church promised much – here was a singer who could sell authentic sounding country pop in a radio-friendly way. When her debut album was released it divided critics, some of whom were disappointed by the more pop leanings of the rest of her music. Those who were less concerned with genre heard a confident young singer with a talent for catchy hooks, who has since managed to find herself a place on country radio despite the odds against women succeeding in that notoriously male-dominated format.
Her second album Girl comes after recent Grammy nominations in both the country and pop categories. The traditionalists will find little to get behind here, but those predicting a full jump to EDM after her crossover guest spot on Zedd’s ‘The Middle’ are wrong. Morris forges her own path with an appealing blend of country, pop and r’n’b.
The album contains a song called ‘Flavor’, which is in direct response to her critics. You don’t have to listen, she sings with a shrug to the ‘not country’ naysayers. She also has fun being a little defiant at those who don’t like her personality or her outspokenness, referencing the Dixie Chicks and saying she won’t ‘shut up and sing’. That sass is admirable of course, but you can’t help but think it would have been easier for her to just record a few more country sounding songs instead. But it seems she is determined to try and cook up her own distinctive flavour.
Maren chose to collaborate with the pop writing team of Greg Kurstin and Sarah Aarons for two songs on the album. The results are perhaps not the straight bangers you might expect, in light of her success with The Middle. Title track Girl works on a repeated guitar refrain and the lyrics reminds us to keep positive, despite the traps set by social media. It’s an important and relatable anthem. Common is a duet with Brandi Carlile, exploring a problematic relationship (it somewhat distractingly hinges on the exact same lyrics as an Alicia Keys song). The track certainly shows off both of their insane vocal talents but maybe melodically it’s just a little underwhelming, especially in comparison with the other duet on the album.
That song, All My Favorite People, with the Brothers Osborne, is the most infectious moment on the record. Its twangy style and lyrics about coping with real life are bound to appeal to any country music lover. And hey it would sound really damn good on the radio, so someone please make it a single. To Hell and Back is a different, but equally effective style of country song – a brooding ballad about dealing with her demons.
The Bones, with its snap beats and sparse arrangement is gorgeous, and actually works better than some of her attempts at straight pop like A Song For Everything and The Feels (both of which are enjoyable but feel a little lightweight). Maren also sounds pretty comfortable singing seductive rnb slow jams like RSVP and Make Out With Me, reminiscent of Rihanna and Ariana Grande. She could have made the full jump to the pop genre if she wanted to but I for one am glad she didn’t. Her involvement in the Highwomen project with Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile indicates that she may also sing more classic country or Americana songs in the future.
The recent Pitchfork review of Girl was skeptical about whether anyone would enjoy the entirety of this album, considering its melting pot of different styles. Perhaps they have a point, but what saves it for me is Maren’s outstanding voice. In the end you have to conclude that she is a star. The bones of Girl are good. Maybe the rest shouldn’t matter.
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